Deninu Kue First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie on Friday expressed frustration at learning a person in the community of Fort Resolution had tested positive for Covid-19.
The NWT government – which announced two new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday evening – had intentionally left the community associated with one case unnamed, saying its small size made guaranteeing patient privacy difficult.
Chief Balsillie, however, identified Fort Resolution as the community in a public Facebook post on Friday morning.
Balsillie told Cabin Radio he had received no confirmation of that from the NWT government, but community members had reported to him a medevac taking place with people “in white suits” the night before.
“As a leader, I am really upset I’m notified after the fact,” Balsillie wrote online. “How am I supposed to help keep the community [safe] when I’m in the dark?”
He said he would now resume efforts to set up a checkpoint on the highway outside the community, though he said the NWT government had previously challenged his authority to do so.
The NWT government, asked about Balsillie’s statement, said it would maintain its policy of not identifying small communities associated with Covid-19 cases.
Two senior members of the territorial government, each with direct knowledge of the NWT government’s response but unable to go on the record about the incident, subsequently confirmed to Cabin Radio that Fort Resolution was the location of the case.
Steve Norn, the Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA, later publicly confirmed the news. “This report is true,” Norn said in a video message to constituents.
Norn told residents to “not panic.”
“These are unprecedented times that we are all experiencing,” he continued, urging residents to work together. “I fully support all measures that my community is taking right now to protect themselves, and I am hoping we work with each other.
“People are still not getting the message. I am going to be lobbying very hard to see that there are liquor restrictions.”
Norn demanded that residents stop all gatherings and follow the chief public health officer’s advice.
The fourth documented Covid-19 case in the NWT is the first to require hospital treatment. They are currently being treated at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
The territory’s privacy commissioner this week said she could understand both the territorial government’s reluctance to identify communities and the reasons why other jurisdictions do so.
“There are good reasons for not saying the specific community, there are also good reasons for stating the specific community,” Elaine Keenan Bengts told Cabin Radio.
The NWT government has argued that knowing which communities are affected should make no difference to how residents act in the face of the pandemic threat.
Instead, the territory has continually urged residents to, in effect, act as though both they and everyone around them have the virus – staying well apart from people outside your household, washing your hands frequently, trying not to touch your face, and taking any precaution you can to stop the virus spreading.
Balsillie’s decision to publicly identify his home community as the location of the fourth case will undoubtedly anger the chief public health officer and NWT government leaders – who made a point of not confirming his claim.
Fort Resolution’s mayor, Patrick Simon, said he had received no word from the chief public health officer.
“The residents of Fort Resolution must now take Covid-19 very seriously,” Simon said by text message.
“For yourself, your family, and our community’s health and safety, please become stricter on your self-monitoring and self-isolation practices, your physical distancing, and do not gather.”
Simon said he would “continue to investigate and pursue this serious situation.”
Cabin Radio also approached community senior administrative officer Tom Beaulieu and Lloyd Cardinal of the Fort Resolution Métis for comment.
Speaking to Cabin Radio on Friday morning, Balsillie said he now wanted to create a checkpoint outside the community to prohibit entry for those not from Fort Resolution.
“I’m going to take it into my hands as a leader in the community,” Balsillie said.
Balsillie said he had tried to set up a similar checkpoint into two weeks ago, but the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca) would not let the First Nation block access to the hamlet.
“I’m not waiting around for Maca’s policies,” he continued on Friday. “As a leader, I’m going to do something. I have to look after my people so that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
Maca did not immediately verify whether government officials had turned down Balsillie’s earlier request for a checkpoint.
In a second post to Facebook later on Friday, the Deninu Kue First Nation said the checkpoint would be established by Friday afternoon.
“All vehicles will be stopped and people who do not live in Fort Resolution will have to turn around, except for essential service workers and grocery or fuel trucks,” the First Nation wrote.
“Residents of Fort Resolution can still leave and return to the community.”